Four years ago we first outlined our approach to removing content from Google products and services. Nothing has changed since then, but given World Day Against Cyber-Censorship is coming up on Monday, March 12, we figured now was a good time for a refresher. Here goes.
At Google, we have a bias in favor of free expression—not just because it’s a key tenet of free societies, but also because more information generally means more choice, more power, more economic opportunity and more freedom for people. As Article 19 of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
That said, we recognize that there are limits. In some areas it’s obvious where to draw the line. For example, we have an all-product ban on child pornography. But in other areas, like extremism, it gets complicated because our products are available in numerous countries with widely varying laws and cultures.
For Search—where we are simply indexing content—we take down as little as possible because helping people find information goes to the heart of our mission. We remove webpages from our search index when required by law, and we post a notice to Chilling Effects when we do so. For example, if we’re notified about specific pages that glorify Nazism, which is prohibited by German law, then we remove those specific pages from Google.de (our German domain).
For products like Blogger, orkut, Google+ and YouTube—where we host the content—we encourage users to express themselves freely, but we also want to ensure that people behave responsibly, so we set guidelines covering the use of our different services. For example, no hate speech, no copyright-infringing content, no death threats, no incitement to violence. And when we’re notified about content that either violates those guidelines or breaks the law—for example, we receive a court order—we will remove it, or restrict it in the country where it’s illegal. Earlier this year, for example, we removed a number of specific webpages from Google properties in India after a court ruled that they violated Indian law.
One final point—none of this is simple. Dealing with controversial content is, well…controversial. It’s why we always start from the principle that more information is better, and why we’ve worked hard to be transparent about the removals we make.